The premise of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s meditation is to investigate the causes and perceived function of lying. His analysis is primarily a self-discussion of sorts in which he muses about the origin of lies punctuated by his own experiences with the matter. Specifically, Rousseau cites a personal account of himself as a boy in which he allows a family housemaid to be relieved of her duties allegedly for stealing a ribbon which Rousseau was guilty of stealing. There are several approaches Rousseau includes when discussing types of lies, lies which affect our present selves, lies which seek to alter future events and lies which look to the past to corrupt the truth of an event.
The instance which Rousseau so animatedly flagellates himself over – the maid – is an example of a lie to defend one’s present self. He understands that he would have suffered his own method of punishment should he have been found guilty and therefor accused the maid. In contrast, another instance which Rousseau experienced a severe lie was an incident which occurred when he was young. The author as an adolescent caught his fingers in a moving printing spool which consequently removed the nails of two of his fingers. The operator, immediately stopping the machine, insisted that the young Rousseau keep the accident a secret to which the boy agreed and claimed to have kept it. This is an example of a lie intended to affect a future change. The operator believed that he would be “ruined” if any other person were to become aware of the injury so he elected to conduct a deferred lie, so to speak, which saves face and prepares for his future while restricting the boy to silence.
The third example of lie species comes in the form of lies which are asserted to – in a sense – change the past. A personal anecdote regarding the act of lying is lying in order to conceal a shameful or embarrassing chapter of life. Whether the reason be to preserve one’s integrity or respect among other individuals, or a lie imposed to simplify a complicated situation which would not be worth sharing. These two instances of lying are actions which I occasionally – not proudly – perform. The mentioned act typically attempts to change the past.